We are officially in the off-season, and Dayton Moore took some time at the General Manager’s meetings to talk about what the Royals might do. A consistent theme has been that of austerity. At his end-of-the-year press conference, Moore warned that the Royals had been “living above our means” and that payroll would likely regress from the $144 million they spent last year. At this week’s meetings, he continued the theme of cutting back, suggesting the Royals will be quiet on the free agent front.
“I don’t look for us to be real aggressive with free agents,” Moore said. “Just because we’re not going to be in position to add significant payroll — if any, at all, at this point.”
Moore has talked up the possibility of letting free agent designated hitter Kendrys Morales walk, and replacing him with a rotation of internal candidates. He has also talked up the starting rotation, saying he likes the depth, and mentioned the possibility of young minor league arms stepping into the bullpen. This week he has talked up the internal candidates in the outfield - Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson - while also adding that minor leaguers Hunter Dozier and Jorge Bonifacio could be options. By all public statements, it looks like the Royals are going to roll with largely the same team as they have now, with no significant additions.
But that is probably bunk.
Dayton Moore has long been notorious for being secretive about his plans. The Royals are not an organization that leaks much. There were not many rumors they were in on Ian Kennedy last winter, nor that they were even interested in Edinson Volquez or Kendrys Morales the winter before. In fact, Brandon Kiley of 101 ESPN in St. Louis found this tweet showing the Royals made virtually the same comments on finances in December of 2015, right before they raised payroll to a franchise record level.
GMDM told us #Royals payroll won't go significantly above $113M. With arb cases, they'll be over $107M. And they need another SP.— Jeffrey Flanagan (@FlannyMLB) December 11, 2015
This was before they signed the two biggest contracts in franchise history - to Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy.
It makes sense for the Royals to downplay their financial position. They are negotiating with free agents who are asking for top dollar, and the Royals need to hold a stance that brings the price down. Playing up internal options and crying poor are just part of the delicate dance of negotiation. The Royals have even given themselves wiggle room on the payroll, with David Glass walking back Moore’s comments a bit saying Moore can be “a persuasive kid.” Even this week, Dayton Moore added a caveat on his stance on not adding payroll, saying:
“We’re not going to be in a position to significantly add payroll. I can say that with all certainty.”
Moore paused for a second, before adding a disclaimer.
“At this point in time,” he said.
The Royals have an opportunity to make one more run at a championship with the current nucleus of players. Dayton Moore does not seem like a man eager to rebuild the system and lose ballgames again. David Glass will have plenty of profit to make in 2018, when payrolls can be easily slashed as the team loses several free agents, but now is not the time to get cheap.
Many teams send out smoke signals and false rumors as they navigate the off-season. The Royals are no different. Dayton Moore can talk about internal options and financial restraint but the fact is the stadium was full last year, interest in the team is high, and the ballclub has some glaring holes that, if filled, can put them in contention next year.
Star columnist Sam Mellinger predicts the Royals will actually increase payroll to $153 million and at this point it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if that happened. We probably shouldn’t listen to what Dayton Moore is saying right now, because there is no reason for him to tell us the truth. And that’s okay.